Continuing the history of the club, based on the original website article written by the Hon. Curator of Kent CCC, David Robertson.
The period following the formation of the Club saw serious financial problems and a decline in the quality of the cricket played by the County. The great players of the earlier years had all gone, with the exception of Edgar Willsher who played on until 1875, and for much of his twenty-five year career was considered the finest bowler in England. Although there were many well qualified amateurs, they tended to prefer club and country house cricket, which in those days was more important to many a Kentish gentleman than representing his county. But a number of significant events were taking shape, which would prove important in the longer term. Particularly, there was the emergence of the 4th Lord Harris as a player and administrator, a man who was to dominate Kent cricket for more than 50 years.
In 1875 George Robert Canning Harris, who had succeeded his father to the title of Lord Harris in 1872, became captain, a position he held until 1889 (by which time he was also Under-Secretary of State for War), and in his first year as captain he was also appointed President. He was Honorary Secretary from 1874 to 1880 and thus in 1875 held three of the key positions in the club. He resigned the captaincy and the Under-Secretaryship of War to become Governor of Bombay from 1890 to 1895, during which time he did a great deal to expand the playing of cricket on the sub-continent, but little else. He subsequently became Chairman of Kent County Cricket Club in 1906 and remained so until his death in 1932. During his playing career he scored 7,842 runs for an average of 30 and in his 157 matches for the county he was the top scorer in 68 innings. He was certainly no passenger in the side – in 1875, his first year as captain, he had a batting average of 40.35, nearly ten runs higher than the next man. But he was also a towering presence off the field. He persuaded many top class amateurs to play county rather than country house cricket, he put the county’s finances on a firm footing, and was largely instrumental in the introduction of Benevolent Funds for Kent cricketers. He was a strict disciplinarian and ruled the players, amateur and professional alike, with a rod of iron. He played his last match for Kent in 1911 when he was 60 years old and was still playing club cricket at the age of 79. For the first fifty years of the club’s existence, he was its major power and influence.
Outstanding among the Kent amateurs of this period were Frank Penn, a fine batsman; Stanley Christopherson, a fast bowler from a large family who could – and did – turn out a family XI, and who like Lord Harris both played for England and went on to become President of MCC; and E.F.S. Tylecote, a notable batsman and wicket-keeper, though not as a wicket-keeper of the standard that people would later come to expect of Kentish glovemen. There was also Hon. Ivo Bligh who led the England team to Australia in 1882 which won back the Ashes, and, a little later, J.R. Mason and C.J. Burnup each of whom played leading roles in the County’s successes in the early 1900s. Jack Mason was selected to tour Australia with Stoddart’s victorious side in 1897, but did not play a Test. He was appointed captain of Kent in 1898 and in 1901 had his best season, scoring 1561 runs and taking 118 wickets. He thus became the first Kent cricketer to achieve the ‘double’. Cuthbert Burnup was the first Kent batsman to score a double century for the county, when he made exactly 200 against Lancashire in 1900. Of the professionals, the side relied throughout this period on the Hearne brothers: George and Alec, both good all-rounders, and Frank, an outstanding batsman and fielder. Alec Hearne, the youngest of the brothers, played from 1884 to 1906, and is one of only two men who have scored over 10,000 runs and taken 1,000 wickets for the county (the other being Frank Woolley, of whom more later). All three brothers played for England, and Frank, who settled in South Africa, had the rare distinction of also playing against England – in 1891/92 he played for South Africa against his two brothers who were playing for England (alongside their cousin J.T. Hearne).
One feature of this period was the success of the County against the Australians. Between 1884 and 1899 there were seven matches against the tourists, of which Kent won five and lost only two. However, in the Championship results were generally unimpressive and although in 1900 and 1904 the County finished in third place, they were rarely in serious contention for the title, with Yorkshire and Surrey being the dominant counties. The big drawback at this time was the shortage of good class professionals and only when the better amateurs were available was the batting up to the required standard.
The development which was to prove significant to the County’s success in the early 1900s – indeed a real turning point in the fortunes of the Club at this time – was the founding of the Tonbridge Nursery in 1897. It is described in “Barclays World of Cricket” as ‘this astonishing institution’ and by 1914 it had produced many fine cricketers. The coach was Captain William McCanlis who was a moderate player in the struggling years of the 1860s and 1870s who played 46 times for Kent. He is described in “Scores and Biographies” as ‘a fine and powerful hitter and likewise a good field’. As a coach he was inspirational. During his time at the Nursery he developed the great talents of Blythe, Seymour, Hardinge, Hubble, Humphreys, Fielder, Woolley, Collins and Freeman. Because of the nursery, Kent, for the first time, had a nucleus of good professionals. These, together with top class amateurs, were to be the players who brought the Championship to Kent for the first time in 1906 and played a significant part in the successful sides of the early 1900s and up to the first world war.
It is interesting to compare the training regime of the Nursery with the programmes which professional cricketers undertake today. The working day was structured with care, a start being made at 10.30am. The youngsters were taught in 15 minute spells of batting when one fault was worked on at a time, and of bowling, with the emphasis being on finding a good length. Special emphasis was placed on catching and throwing, and great trouble was taken to ensure that the developing talents were not put under strain. Extended lunch and tea intervals were taken. The young players were required to bowl to members under supervision and they gained match experience with local clubs who offered the opportunity for them to play in their matches.
When McCanlis retired, the committee said of him, “What the club owes him for his life long services to the county as cricketer, counsellor and friend it is impossible to estimate but so far as his coaching is concerned he has the extreme satisfaction of having lived to see and enjoy the most satisfactory results.” These satisfactory results began in 1906.
To be continued…